Sewing Basics: How to Hem a Dress
Next in our Sewing Basics series we will be explaining how to hem a dress. Ever bought a dress and only worn it once or twice because it isn’t quite the right fit? Altering the hem of a garment to a more flattering length is a great way to make it more personal. The better the fit, the better you feel, and the more likely you are to get years of use out of it.
In the UK it’s estimated we have around £30 billion worth of clothes sitting in our wardrobes unworn, with the average life of a garment only 2.2 years. The statistics might be shocking, but the good news is that simply extending the life of your garms by even nine months can reduce their impact considerably.
So if you want to get the most value for money out of your clothes, and be kinder to the planet at the same time, why not pick up a needle? Learning how to sew a hem is a simple way to breathe new life into that dress or skirt gathering dust in your wardrobe. And if that sounds intimidating, the good news is we’re here to guide you through the process, step by step. Happy sewing!
Gather your materials
To hem a dress you will need a measuring tape, a pair of scissors, pins, fabric marker or tailor’s chalk, thread (usually in a colour matching the fabric of your dress as closely as possible) and a sewing needle.
Choose your new hem length
Decide how much you would like to take your dress up by and roughly turn up and pin in place. Check that this looks right for you in a mirror.
Prepare your hem
Once you are happy with the length, take off the dress and turn it inside out. Measure from the current hem up to where you have pinned, then unpin and lay flat. Use your fabric marker to mark out the same measurement right around the hem of your dress. Below the new hemline, measure 2-3 cm down and then mark this all the way round as well.
This is to leave enough excess fabric to fold in twice, so that the newly cut raw edge will be protected (each of the folds being around 1-1.5cm in thickness.) This bottom line is the line along which you shall cut.
Trim the excess fabric at this line. This fabric may be useful to save and reuse for other craft projects, but if it is not worth saving, try and get it to a textiles recycling bank. Turn up the hem twice, by 1-1.5cm each time, to meet your new hem line and pin this fold in place all the way round.
Carefully, minding the pins, try on the garment to double check that your hem is straight and that you are happy with the length. It will make your life much easier to make any amendments at this point. Press the hem of the dress so that it is neat and easy to stitch.
Stitching the hem
Although you could also use an invisible stitch or a running stitch, for durability, neatness and ease we would recommend sewing your hem with a backstitch.
To begin your backstitch, push the needle into the fabric where you want to start the seam, and bring the needle back through both layers of fabric just in front of the previous stitch. The closer your stitches are, the stronger your backstitch will be. For the first stitch only, go back over this first stitch to secure the thread and make sure it doesn’t unravel.
Then, push the needle back into the fabric between where the needle came in and out of the fabric to create the first stitch. Bring the needle up through the fabric the same distance you came forward in creating the first stitch. Keep these stitches going, regularly checking the other side of the fabric to check they are as even as possible.
Make sure to do a double stitch where the stitching ends, and then knot the thread at the end of your stitching and cut away excess threads. Remove all of the pins and then lightly press the hem with your iron for a neat professional finish. Now you have a dress that is the best length for you, that you can bring out of your wardrobe more often, extending its life and therefore reducing its environmental impact.
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